St. Joseph Police enforcement has more than doubled on weekends recently after residents complained about CSB/SJU student behavior. The number of officers on duty to patrol the downtown area and respond to callers has increased from two to three officers, to five to eight, depending on the weekend according to St. Joseph Chief of Police Joel Klein.
Some CSB/SJU students are concerned with the increase in enforcement especially because the St. Joseph mayor and police chief approached the CSB and SJU administrations with their concerns instead of students. Aside from the violations of the law, leaders from St. Joseph said there is a new problem — an increase in disrespect from students directed at police officers.
“The mayor was concerned about the way some of the students were treating the officers when law enforcement was doing their job,” CSB Vice President of Student Development Mary Geller said. “I don’t think they really heard that complaint before, and that was an elevated concern.”
These concerns came to the forefront of campus dialogue on Sept. 23 when an off-campus house, commonly known as the Yellow House, hosted a party that resulted in 46 minor consumption violations. Klein said the student response to law enforcement was disrespectful and non-cooperative.
“Trying to argue with someone that is intoxicated, it is not a good time to argue a point when they have been drinking,” Klein said. “Would I have gotten a lot more cooperation that night, it would have turned out probably totally different. We are not here to make people’s lives difficult. My main concern is always
Tenants of Yellow House, SJU seniors Justin Dorr and Alex Johnson, recalled of the events that night differently.
“I did see cops be very authoritative with students,” Johnson said. “At one point I saw a female officer get her baton out and threaten to baton a [female student] for trying to leave the house to see what was going on and she got pushed back in pretty forcefully.”
Dorr said he’s concerned for the students who received tickets.
“St. John’s preaches moderation and responsible drinking,” Dorr said. “I feel bad for the [underage students] that are practicing that responsibility and go out there and blow a .01 and get a minor.”
While there was no formal noise complaint filed for the incident at Yellow House, other off-campus houses’ residents said they have experienced what they believe to be excessive action taken for noise complaints.
SJU senior and off-campus resident Ben Turnham’s residence received a two-page long letter about a noise complaint after a noise complaint was filed.
“We thought it was just the [police officers] …that stopped by to let us know [that the music was too loud], but after that we got a letter from the deans and a letter from the city,” Turnham said. “Talk about a threatening letter. It was more about just how it was ‘absolutely unacceptable that that happened, if that happens ever again you guys are going to be evicted, we’re going to make you live on campus,’ and a bunch of other stuff.”
CSB and SJU administrators said they recognize that there are students living in residential neighborhoods and doesn’t want noise violations to jeopardize the relationship between the schools and the city of St. Joseph.
“We are aware of other colleges in Minnesota that have poor relationships with the city and their neighborhood and we really believe that our mission and who we are makes us something different,” SJU Vice President of Student Development Fr. Doug Mullin said. “We really do want to get along with people and be respectful to where they are coming from.”
Many students voiced their concerns about student-police relations during the open forum at the St. John’s Senate meeting on Monday night. This meeting resulted in the highest attendance of a Senate meeting this year.
“There are plenty of perspectives about drinking on campus and I don’t think that this issue just concerns…[students] partying,” SJU first-year Elliot Olson said during the public forum. “[While I was in town and sober] a police car drove by every 30 seconds…it was almost like playing a game of cops and robbers with the police force. I think there’s a rift between the students and police right now, and there has been no efforts to ease animosity between the students and the police.”
St. John’s Senate President Jack Cummings said he hopes to alleviate these issues with the police department. He scheduled an initial meeting with Klein, and in addition the meeting will now include a few SJS senators, Mullin and Dean of Students Mike Connolly.
“I’d say the St. John’s Senate is proactively trying to find ways to promote responsible and respectable behavior among students, and then developing initiatives to ease the tensions with fellow citizens,” Cummings said.
Turnham is also a St. John’s Senator, and said he feels that it is difficult to have a say in the discussion because there is information being withheld from student leaders.
“I wish that there was more interaction between the students, residents, city council and police department, but instead that is getting funneled to the administration and the administration is very selective about what they share with us,” Turnham said. “How can you possibly ask us to come up with solutions when you don’t give us all the pieces? It’s like an insolvable puzzle.”
The CSB and SJU administrators are urging students to act respectfully while in St. Joseph.
“I think that if students are respectful and law-abiding, none of this would be an issue,” Geller said. “We didn’t make those laws, we’re just asking that you be respectful. If you do there won’t be any trouble and there won’t be any problems.”
FEATURE PHOTO: JILLIAN SCHULZ • [email protected]